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Cliffs of Hastings Country Park

Hastings Country Park - Fossils

The cliffs that make up the coastline of the park show complex faults that were formed some 50 million years ago.

The palaeobotanical and vertebrate palaeontological fossils from this area are considered to be some of the best examples of their type in the world.

Palaeobotanical interest of the site includes abundant drifted plant-fragments and up-standing plants in growth positions.

The cliffs between Covehurst Wood and Lee Ness Ledge form the best known and most productive site for the Fairlight Clay flora. This flora is the most important of those found in the British Wealden deposits, containing an exceptionally well preserved variety of algae, mosses, pteridophytes and gymnosperms.

The cretaceous sediments which make up these cliffs are probably the best outside of the Isle of Wight for future finds of Lower Cretaceous reptiles.

The Wadhurst Clay has produced many specimens of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, turtles, crocodiles and plesiosaurs. This site is one of a handful of localities in the world to have yielded early Cretaceous mammal remains, which have included rare specimens of both therian and prototherian mammals.

Know What You're Looking For

These are the main kinds of fossil that you can expect to find in the park:

Body Fossils (Moulds And Casts)
The bodies of dead animals soon decay or are eaten by scavengers. If the remains are deposited in water they gradually become buried under layers of sand, mud or silt. Over millions of years, as these sediments consolidate, the bones, teeth or shells are dissolved by chemicals in groundwater, leaving hollow moulds or impressions. Eventually these are filled by sediments or minerals that crystallise from groundwater solution to form casts.

Replacement (Diagenesis)
In many fossils the internal structures may also be preserved. The original minerals area gradually recrystallised or replaced by other minerals from solution.

Carbonisation (Plants)
Plant material is compressed to a thick layer of carbon. Carbonised fossils are commonly found in siltstones and the roof shales of coal mines. Examples include ferns and wood.

Trace Fossils (Indirect Evidence)
These may be the only surviving clues to an animal's past existence. Examples include bioturbation (burrows), coprolites (faecal pellets), teeth marks and footprints.

Pseudo Fossils (False Fossils)
Features in rocks which look like fossils. Examples include conchoidal (bivalve-shaped) fractures in flint, dendritic (plant-like) patterns formed where minerals crystallise in rock fissures and natural concretions which look like fossilised eggs.

The Gastropod

In 1921, stone fragments of strange structure were discovered in the Wadhurst Clay during road works in Hastings. When reconstructed, they were identified as parts of the internal cast of a gastropod, measuring about 2m (7ft) in length.

After analysis, it was given the name Dinocochlea Ingens (terrible/huge unknown snail). Evidence of an organic origin was suggested by its regular spiral, although there was no trace of any external or internal shell material.

Since then, the true nature of the structure has been discussed and argued at length. It was even claimed to be the burrow of an extinct beaver (in rocks dated at 135 million years old!)

Despite all the controversy, it is probably just a natural sandstone concretion which just happened to form in the shape of a large gastropod. There are still those who believe that Dinocochlea is a rare fossil species of mollusc but, to date, no further examples are known to have been found.

This shows how difficult it can sometimes be to distinguish a genuine fossil from a pseudo, or even a faked specimen!

Extract from the booklet entitled "Geology and Fossils of the Hastings Area" by Ken Brooks

 

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